It’s been a difficult year for Greek life at the University of Virginia, and it looks as if things are getting a little more complicated due to a campus-wide suspension, which will last until the beginning of the new year. Last week, Rolling Stone published an extremely controversial article (I encourage all of you to read it) detailing a freshman girl’s rape by seven Phi Kappa Psis at a UVA fraternity party in 2012. The victim of the assault, Jackie, thought she was going as a date to a party, but after a while, she was led into a room with the lights out where a group of men were waiting to gang rape her. The article went into vivid, disturbing detail, where Jackie recounts being thrown through a glass table, held down, punched in the face when she tried to escape, and raped by seven different men over the course of several hours. Broken glass was shoved into her body and she was left bleeding on the floor. Worst of all, it seems as if what happened to Jackie was a typical initiation rite that had happened to several girls before and after her.
When Jackie was originally raped, her friends discouraged her from going to the hospital or reporting the assault, assuming that it would be social suicide. Even more than two years later, people still discouraged Jackie from telling her story for nearly the same reasons. She was shamed by her peers as well as the university, and she was made to feel that this horrifying assault was her fault. After years of struggling with the trauma from this experience, Jackie was finally able to come clean. As a result, UVA has responded to the outrage caused by the publication of Rolling Stone’s original article; the school has suspended all Greek life until Jan. 9, 2015. President Sullivan released this statement explaining the decision:
Dear members of the University Community,
Over the past week many of you have reached out to me directly to offer your opinions, reactions, and suggestions related to combatting sexual violence on Grounds. I want you to know that I have heard you, and that your words have enkindled this message.
At UVa we speak in idealistic terms: honor and tradition inform our thinking, and balance our daily actions. And it is easy here, where success is demanded as much as it is sought, to let our idealism outweigh our reality. Jefferson, as he always does, provides a compelling backdrop:
It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it.
The wrongs described in Rolling Stone are appalling and have caused all of us to reexamine our responsibility to this community. Rape is an abhorrent crime that has no place in the world, let alone on the campuses and grounds of our nation’s colleges and universities. We know, and have felt very powerfully this week, that we are better than we have been described, and that we have a responsibility to live our tradition of honor every day, and as importantly every night.
As you are aware, I have asked the Charlottesville Police Department to investigate the 2012 assault that is described in Rolling Stone. There are individuals in our community who know what happened that night, and I am calling on them to come forward to the police to report the facts. Only you can shed light on the truth, and it is your responsibility to do so. Alongside this investigation, we as a community must also do a systematic evaluation of our culture to ensure that one of our founding principles– the pursuit of truth – remains a pillar on which we can stand. There is no greater threat to honor than secrecy and indifference.
I write you today in solidarity. I write you in great sorrow, great rage, but most importantly, with great determination. Meaningful change is necessary, and we can lead that change for all universities. We can demand that incidents like those described in Rolling Stone never happen and that if they do, the responsible are held accountable to the law. This will require institutional change, cultural change, and legislative change, and it will not be easy. We are making those changes.
This morning the Inter-Fraternity Council announced that all University fraternities have voluntarily suspended social activities this weekend. This is an important first step, but our challenges will extend beyond this weekend. Beginning immediately, I am suspending all fraternal organizations and associated social activities until January 9th, ahead of the beginning of our spring semester. In the intervening period we will assemble groups of students, faculty, alumni, and other concerned parties to discuss our next steps in preventing sexual assault and sexual violence on Grounds. On Tuesday, the Board of Visitors will meet to discuss the University’s policies and procedures regarding sexual assault as well as the specific, recent allegations.
In the words of one student who wrote to me this week, “Policy is needed, but people make change.” We need the collective strength of the members of our community to ensure that we have the best policies. So as you prepare for what I hope is a restful Thanksgiving holiday, I hope that you will take time to review and respond to the recently posted Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, which is currently open for public comment. You may find that policy at this link. Providing candid feedback to this policy is a practical step that you can take to help and I hope that you will.
To our fourth-year students: as you prepare to celebrate your last home football game today, I hope that you will embrace your role as leaders and demonstrate a renewed sense of responsibility to our community, and a renewed commitment to make that community better. It starts today.
Finally, I want to express my grief at hearing the news of the death of second-year student Peter D’Agostino, whose passing adds overwhelming emotion to what has been a difficult semester for all of us.
We are united in our compassion, resolve, and determination: Compassion for survivors of assault; resolve to make our community better; determination to begin to solve this problem here and now. I hope that you will join me.
Teresa A. Sullivan
As glad as I am that UVA is finally taking steps against what appears to be a long line of rape, assault, and abuse on campus, I can’t say I’m convinced a little more than a month-long suspension (including the school’s winter break, when most students would presumably be off campus, anyway) of fraternity activities are going to do much. Parties will resume and it appears as if the students responsible for Jackie’s rape–and so many others–won’t be held responsible for their actions. As members of Greek life, we know the value placed on tradition, so it’s hard to believe that even such a sick “tradition” as gang-raping an unsuspecting freshman at a party would so easily get pushed aside. To be perfectly honest, administration can only do so much. It’s up to the students to make a change, and I hope that these allegations will do just that. Victims and assailants alike, I hope that you have the courage to speak out against college rape and hold your classmates and yourselves accountable for your actions. It blows my mind that so many women can’t feel safe on their own campuses, and I urge all of you reading this to be the change your campus so desperately needs when it comes to safety and the protection of the women on your campus..
[via Rolling Stone]
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